The Grand National was run this weekend. For those who don't know about it, it is the biggest horse race in Europe.
The reason I mentioned it in my blog is that something caught my ear this time, and that was when, after the race, the BBC commentator said, ". . . there were no fatalities this year", in a tone that indicated a degree of pleasant surprise. Think about it; it's worthy of a mention that no-one died in this one off, 10 minute sporting event. That's like a football commentator saying, "and eight or fewer of the players died during the match . . . how good was that?"
I'm not complaining. I just thought it was worthy of comment.
When I’m away, I rarely get the opportunity to enjoy any telly. Partly because it’s quite tricky to get hold of UK TV channels when abroad, but even when I’m in the UK, I don’t have the time. I know I shouldn’t, but I do tend to over indulge when I get back. It’s like coming in from the cold and wrapping yourself in the warming comfort of an old, familiar duvet. There’s been a bit of talk on other blogs about what’s on the telly, so I thought it might be a nice idea to make a list of the Top 10 TV programmes I’m enjoying this particular time I’ve fallen off the TV waggon. So here we go. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
NB I’ve done them in a sort of reverse order to allow them to build to a crescendo.
This is the BBC’s flagship technology programme. However, UK technology geeks would be forgiven for not even knowing it exists, tucked away as it is on BBC News 24’s daytime schedules. Perhaps they think it doesn’t matter when it goes out, because tech-heads will be watching it on catch-up anyway. Anyway, I like it because its apparent low budget means that it cuts to the chase, rather than cluttering up its on-screen time with competitions, prizes and reading out live tweets from people whose attention is divided between the show, and their iPhone (and hence whose opinions are worthless).
9. Big Bang Theory
This is the first of two US imports I’ve chosen, that air as part of E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’ (the other being ‘Brooklyn 99’; see next item). Believe it or not, there are people in this world who have never seen an episode of Big Bang Theory. My heart goes out to them. They truly do not know what they’re missing. As an aside, an Admin Assistant in one of the places I sometimes work looks like Penny, and so it’s a happy day for me when I go there.
8. Brooklyn 99
This one snuck up without fanfare. As mentioned above, this comes as part of E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’. The trouble with E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’ is that it’s littered with fairly lacklustre and formulaic US comedies that are only ‘quite’ funny. Something about this one, however, caught my eye, and after the first episode I was sold.
7. Bear Grylls: Mission Survive
This is a little like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, in that a load of celebs are taken into the jungle and made to do many things they’d sooner not do. There the comparison ends, however. IACGMOOH is hosted by those cheeky Tyneside Eric-and-Ernie-alikes Ant & Dec. Mission Survive is hosted by an unsympathetic ex-SAS survival expert who famously rehydrated himself by
In IACGMOOH, you never get the impression anyone will actually die as a result of eating bugs or getting covered in rats. With Mission Survive, it’s always a puzzle how any of the celebs manage to still be alive at the end of the episode. The viewers vote off celebs in IACGMOOH, whereas in Mission Survive, Bear Grylls dispatches them humanely with a small hunting knife before their incompetence can kill anyone else (that’s not strictly true, but by the time you’ve watched the first couple of episodes, it wouldn’t surprise you).
6. Bear Grylls: The Island
Once Bear Grylls has euthanised the last of the celebrities in Mission Survive, Channel 4 will segue him seamlessly into this particular offering. The premise is this: Bear Grylls leaves a group of a dozen or so overweight office workers on a small, swampy and dangerous, deserted island with no food, water, survival kit or training. He then goes back after eight weeks to see what became of them. You think I’m joking? I am not. Lord Of The Flies can’t hold a candle to the horrors of the last series. In series 2, the ante has been upped. There will be two islands and two groups; one of men, and one of women. Oh, the humanity!
5. Raised By Wolves
Every now and again, Channel 4 delivers up a new comedy that is like nothing that has ever come before it. ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd’ are obvious examples, and you may remember ‘The Comic Strip Presents’. The most recent to fit into that category is ‘Raised By Wolves’. Written by Caitlin and Caroline Moran, whose writing career doesn’t seem to have edged into TV before, this is the story of a very unusual West Midlands working class one-parent-family, and their sundry misadventures. Wow!
4. Inside Number 9
Back for a second series, this darkly comic (emphasis very much on the dark, rather than the comic) anthology of one-off dramas is written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, two of the powerhouse writing team that brought us the deeply disturbing ‘League of Gentlemen’. The only connection between these half-hour stories is that they all take place in Number 9, be it an ordinary house, a gothic mansion, a dressing room, or a rail couchette . . . oh, and there’s always a knock-you-sideways twist in the tale.
3. Only Connect
It only became apparent to me after watching ‘Only Connect’, but there live amongst us a race of super-intelligent alien entities, disguised as ordinary human beings. They created this quiz show to test their immeasurably superior intellects; to compete amongst themselves by performing mental feats so amazing to ordinary mortals as to make them nearly dizzy at the cerebral capacities involved. For humble men and women such as you or I, it is a feather in the cap to even understand the answers given, let alone come anywhere near providing one. It bills itself as ‘the toughest quiz show on TV’, and I see no reason to doubt that claim. It is hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who must surely be the sexiest woman on whatever planet she comes from.
2. 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown
Born of a one-off experiment by Channel 4, ‘8 Out Of 10 cats Does Countdown’ has shoehorned two very different shows together into one. ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’ was a long running panel show where comedians answer questions on statistics. Very funny, but just one of many similar panel shows. Countdown was a number and letter puzzles gameshow, shown midweek afternoons, and mainly watched by students, and retired people hoping that exercising their brain cells will stave off dementia. The format is simple, and it’s the longest running gameshow on the planet (interesting fact:
Countdown was the first show on Channel 4). Anyway, surprisingly enough, you put these 2 ordinary shows together, and you get ab-sol-ute dynamite. The whole is so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Funniest thing on telly at the moment by a long chalk.
1. Life on Mars
I saved the best until last. OK, so this isn’t showing at the moment. I found the complete series 1 & 2 going cheap on iTunes, so I loaded it onto the iPhone to take away to Austria with me. I didn’t really get chance to watch it, so I’m catching up on it now. If I had to make a list of my top five TV shows of all time, this would probably be at the top. Gene Hunt is such an inspired creation, that Life on Mars would be at the top of the list on that character’s merit alone, but the rest is all superb too.
Other highlights of my square-eyed habit are ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Banished’. My wife says I should watch the new ‘Poldark’, but I’ve already nailed my colours to ‘Banished’s flagpole, and there’s only room in my life for one Redcoat-based period drama. And anyway, I think she only watches it to see Aidan Turner’s six-pack.
I’ve just been through a course of treatment for premature ejaculation. I’m OK now, but for a while it was touch & go.
Just getting in the mood, because I’m starting to fit jobs around our annual visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For as long as I can remember I’d heard tales of this legendary festival, and longed to go, but never did. I wasn’t really sure why, but if I’m honest I was probably a little over-awed by it. It is after all, the largest festival on the planet by a very, very considerable margin. It . . . is . . . HUGE. Absolutely city-wide, and during practically the whole month of August. Hundreds of venues host multiple shows each day, all day. There’s barely a pub in the city that doesn’t also have something going on, and if that weren’t enough, the streets are packed with street entertainers surrounded by crowds. The whole city is one long party for four weeks, starting before lunch each day, and pushing on well into the wee-small hours. The atmosphere is truly electric.
Notoriously, however, even if you can find somewhere to stay, the price of accommodation in the city is hiked up during the Fringe Festival . . . and with so much going on, just where do you start? You can go and see people you’ve heard of, but that’s all very safe and predictable, and not really in the spirit of the Fringe (and it tends to be a bit pricey). The Fringe is all about those kind of shows you’d never see anywhere else. . . that just wouldn’t work outside the context of this avalanche of music/theatre/comedy/dance/arts. You need to see the nobodies, the ones yet to be jaded by wide-audience appeal. You want to be able to hear that Johnny Come-Lately’s sold out tour of mega-arenas is once again packing out the O2, and say with pride “I saw him in a 50-seat venue above a pub at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it only cost me a fiver”. In short, it’s all about taking the risk and seeing something different.
Now you can see why I was a little intimidated by the prospect. But eventually, I bit the bullet and went for it. I was so glad I did, and have been every year since. So here’s my guide to enjoying the Edinburgh Fringe, without breaking the bank.
Sunshine on Leith
Do you remember bespectacled, sore-footed and overly-Scottish musical twins, The Proclaimers? They did a song called, and appeared in an excellently feel-good film called, ‘Sunshine on Leith’. Leith is the answer to your budget accommodation problems. There is an abundance of hotels, B&Bs, bunkhouses, etc. to cover all pockets. It’s easy to get to, just north of the City of Edinburgh, and served by myriad cheap and regular bus services. The place I use has a bus stop right outside, where every 10 minutes, a bus takes you into the city centre in just 20 minutes.
There’s your accommodation sorted. Next question: How long should I stay? It’s a fair question. One thing is for absolutely certain, unless you have a bottomless bank account, and a time machine or an army of clones, you will undoubtedly leave without having seen the vast majority of what you wanted to see. So just plan to stay as long as you want your trip to last. I usually arrive early afternoon on a Friday and leave mid-afternoon on the following Monday. This year, I may go up on the Thursday.
Next question: How much planning should I do? The first year, I planned everything right down to the last minute. Every show booked, and tickets purchased in advance. This gave us a number of problems:
I had no idea just how big the festival was, and so how long it took to get between venues. We ended up running between shows on at least couple of occasions.
I didn’t really factor in time for some evening meals (eating is Future OfClayton’s problem, obviously!)
We didn’t have the opportunity to explore The Free Fringe – a sort of shadow Festival that operates on a ‘just turn up and pay what you think it was worth’ basis. This tends to be much cheaper than the main Fringe.
You tend to become aware of good shows while you’re there. Bill-postings, talking to people in pubs, leaflets, that kind of thing.
You don’t get the opportunity to use the half-price ticket booths. A good number of shows will release half price tickets on the morning of the show (if they have any left)
There was little chance to stop and watch the many, many excellent street entertainers.
We got to see a lot of shows, which meant we spent more money.
Last year, I really did just turn up and did no planning whatsoever. This meant many of the shows we decided to see were sold out. So the key is to plan a few, but leave plenty of time to just spontaneously drop onto shows, especially the Free Fringe and the street entertainers, or shows where you see a poster and think – “ooh, that looks good”. On the subject of leaflets, when someone hands you a leaflet, take it and read it. It’s an excellent way of happening on a show that you didn’t know about. Quite often the person handing out the leaflets will be one of the artistes themselves, so they’re well worth getting into a conversation with.
Meals? Obviously, you’re gonna need to eat out to a degree, and if you drop into a restaurant every night, then your cash will dwindle quickly. Here are my tips: We tend to choose accommodation where no breakfast is provided. That way, we can provide my own breakfast, and so save a bit there. We take a picnic lunch into the city, and eat it in one of Edinburgh’s many excellent public parks. I’ll recommend a couple of very good value eateries:
The Mosque Kitchen (Corner of Nicholson Street and Nicholson Place)
This is a remarkable place. It is exactly what it says it is – or started out that way; purely to serve a cheap meal of chicken and rice to those going to Friday Prayers. After 9/11, it threw open its doors to anyone and everyone. Now, you queue up, get a dirt cheap curry in a box, and sit at large tables with everyone else to eat it. It is located very close to many of the Fringe’s big venues, including The Gilded Balloon, Assembly George Square, The Pleasance Dome and the Udderbelly.
Ali Bongo’s Cafe & Bistro (Teviot Place, opposite Bristo Square)
Also conveniently located near the Udderbelly, Pleasance Dome and Gilded Balloon, this serves good Eastern Mediterranean cuisine at reasonable prices. It is far better than it looks from the outside, which has the added advantage of meaning you can usually get a table (often a problem during the Fringe)
Drinks? Sorry, but beer is expensive in Edinburgh, especially at the big Fringe venues. However, the atmosphere in those big outdoor bars tends to be very enjoyable, especially on a warm, cloudless night. The Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly, or the Gilded Balloon are the best. Either drink less, or account for the cost.
How do I find my way around? This is a fair question, as the Fringe covers a large area of the city. If you have a Smartphone, they release an app for that year’s Fringe a few months in advance. This is by far the best way.
I suppose my last piece of advice is, don’t fail to go just because you don’t really know what you’ll do when you get there. Once you’re in Edinburgh during the Festival Fringe, it will draw you lovingly in, surround you, and look after you. You WILL have a great time.
Hello, and welcome to my blog. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
The law of unintended consequences
I was listening to Nigel Farage being interviewed on the radio this morning (the picture isn't him, by the way). For those who don’t know him, he’s the leader of a New-Kid-On-The-Block-Far-Right-We’re-Not-Racist-But-We-Have-To-Keep-Saying-We’re-Not-Racist political party in the UK. Now you won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t agree with very much he says. However, this morning I found myself agreeing with him. He has an aspiration to reduce immigration to the UK, and the figure that’s being bandied about is 50,000 per annum. He was being a little evasive when pressed about that target though, saying it was more of an aspiration than a hard and fast target to which UKIP should be held if ever they (God forbid!) get into power. I know what he meant though, he sees it as being more of a strategy, something that would influence the way they would govern. It would be the ‘spirit’ of what they do rather than some we-must-reach-50,000-at-all-costs-no-matter-how-we-do-it goal. He didn’t want this target to stop the ‘right’ people immigrating. This is fair enough. I don’t like hard-and-fast targets, because they tend to change the motivation of people. If you phone an IT support desk (for example) with a problem, sometimes you get the impression the operator is motivated to close your call, rather than provide the help you need. That’s because he or she is some poor sap working in a Hyderbad call centre, and how much money he gets to spend on feeding his or her family is directly dependant on how many calls he closes, rather than how much help he provides. I would be the same, and so would you. And these kinds of targets have caused as much harm as good within the National Health Service for exactly that reason. Staff are motivated to meet the targets, rather than being motivated to care and cure.
My heart bleeds for them
Mr Farage went on to say that he didn’t want to set a target because people are bored with them. That’s where I stopped agreeing with him. I’m frustrated by targets, but not bored. Go on, ask me what people ARE bored by. I’ll tell you. It’s just how often you hear rich people moaning about how bloody awful it is to be rich. Let me quote talented singer/songwriter Adele, talking about tax:
"I'm mortified to have to pay 50%! I use the NHS, I can't use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are shit, and I've gotta give you, like, four million quid – are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [my album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire."
Let’s ignore the last phrase and hope it isn’t an early sign of a major psychotic episode on her part. Instead, let’s do the maths (translation for US readers: let’s do the math.) She had to pay 50% tax, and this totalled £4,000,000. Let me get may calculator out, so she had . . . clickety-click-click . . . £8,000,000 to start off with. (Concentrate; I know there are a lot of zeroes going on here, but bear with it). So let me just work out what she’s left with to spend . . . . erm . . . oh yes, £4,000,000. Is that all? I’m so sorry I doubted you, Adele. Your life must be really shit! Maybe we can have a whip-round for you. I’ll tell you what, I don’t pay much in the way of tax. Wanna swap incomes?
But it’s the irony of what she’s saying that must be lost on her. Maybe if people like her started doing their bit for the society that made them multi-millionaires in the first place, the state schools would be a bit less shit.
The other main gripe you’ll hear from rich people is “I may have lots of money, but I work hard for it”. It’s apparent to me that this statement is rarely, if ever, true – the more people earn, the less hard they work. What people are doing when they say this, is mistaking the concept of “working hard” for that of “working long hours”. The people who pick the vegetables that find their way on to your dinner plate? They work hard. A&E nurses work hard. Coal miners work hard. Sitting in an office on the top floor of a Canary Wharf tower holding a teleconference with the New York office until 10:00pm is unwelcome, inconvenient and irritating. It may even be stressful. Though, if you’re stressed by the prospect of losing your job and having to live out your life on what miserable few million pounds you can eke out of your stock portfolio, then you’re not seeing the bigger picture. My heart bleeds for you.
Hello everyone, and welcome to the GhostOfClayton ‘once-again-it’s-turned-out-to-be-less-frequent-than-twice-fortnightly’ blog.
The litmus test of a civilised society
Very little is new at OfClayton Towers (though that isn’t an excuse). The main thing is that Mrs OfClayton has started a new job. She is now working in a library, and she enjoys it very much. I must admit it sounds quite interesting, helping people research projects / interests and the like. Trouble is, libraries are very much an endangered species in the UK at the moment. I [would] like to think of myself as a liberal intellectual, and a good socialist, so you’d think I would be throwing up my hands in horror at the actual and threatened loss of so many libraries. These institutions are iconic of a civilised society, surely. Trouble is, visitor numbers are dropping. Clientele seem to consist solely of Eastern Europeans who use the computers to Skype back to the family, elderly readers who’ve used libraries all their lives (understandably, numbers will dwindle in this category), and middle class parents taking their children, in a futile attempt to buck the trend. This is disheartening. It smacks of a litmus test of our modern western society that is starting to show an unappetising colour.
However, (you knew there’d be a however, didn’t you?) the more I think about it, the more I think waving the white flag might not be quite the societal disaster that my heart thinks it would be. I was a regular in the library when I was a kid and these days I do have to do an awful lot of research, but even I don’t visit the library very often at all,. People aren’t using the libraries because it’s easier and quicker to get on the internet. Yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, and there are loads of little down sides to losing a library service. But how long before the numbers dwindle to almost zero? It’s depressing (or is it?)
Once again, this blog has failed to come to a conclusion. No trends being bucked there, then.
The future of this blog
Just a note about the immediate future of this blog. On Friday night, I’ll be heading out to Austria, so there’ll definitely not be a blog the following Thursday. My colleague works out there as a ski rep in the winter sports season, and he thinks there just might be a hint of a whisper of a chance of some absence cover work going. I’ve no idea how long it will last, if it happens at all, so you’ll have to watch this space. If I come back, I’ll blog. Ciao for now.
You may have noticed that I didn’t publish my twice weekly blog on Thursday. That’s for two reasons. The first (and probably most pertinent one) is that I had a blog up my sleeve saved in my e-mail drafts, and when I came to look for it, it had gone. Shame. It was a dang good one that explained what a ‘Snowclone’ and an ‘Oxford Comma’ are. The second reason is that, as a responsible blogger, I feel I should talk about the recent events in Paris. Such a weighty subject clearly deserves more of my attention and thought than I usually give to my blogs, hence the delay. You have my apologies (he said as if you cared about, or had even noticed, the delay.)
Most importantly, I would like to use this opportunity (on behalf of all UNRV subscribers, I’m sure) to send a message of both sympathy and solidarity to our friends in the French Capital. Now to add my voice to the analysis.
All the debate seems to centre around freedom of speech. That’s a no-brainer to most people; we should have it. And I agree. Simple. No argument to be had. Or is there? Do we have free speech in ‘The West’? imagine a line running between less controversial topics on the left, towards more controversial topics on the right. There was nothing political about my choice of left and right there, that’s how mathematicians arrange these types of axis – get over it! As we start our journey from left to right, we’re on pretty comfortable territory, “should the BBC be able to report negatively about a poorly performing government?” That’s the kind of question that most would answer “yes” to. Let’s press on. Should UKIP supporters be able to say “there are too many Eastern Europeans in east coast English cities?” Most people think political parties like UKIP or the British National Party, whilst not overtly racist, seem motivated by zenophobia, but few people would deny them the right to speak up. Let’s keep going on our journey. “In my opinion, there are too many people with dark skins living in London” says a BNP spokesman. That would be overtly racist, and respectable, right-thinking people would abhor it. Should he be allowed to say it? We have a law against incitement to racial or religious hatred in the UK, which Mr BNP may fall foul of if he chanted it repeatedly at a football ground, but if he just was overheard saying it to a couple of UKIP supporting friends in a pub, he probably would be OK. But should he be allowed to chant it repeatedly at a football ground? If he was prosecuted for doing so, isn’t that gagging him from giving his opinion? Suddenly, the world of free speech isn’t quite so clear cut, is it?
Anyway, somewhere along the journey, we would come across the question “Should newspaper cartoonists be allowed to draw an image of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)?” There are plenty of very clever wordsmiths that could make you firmly believe this was in a grey area. I don’t think it is. I think it’s a pretty clear “Yes”. A very clever man once said, “Whilst I may not agree with what you say, I would defend to the death your right to say it.”
To digress a little. These blogs have the option of attaching a little picture, and one way I could have stated that I stand clearly four-square with the Parisian cartoonists, and against the Jihadist types who committed the atrocity, was to use that opportunity to reprint one of the offending cartoons. That would show the extremists that they haven’t won. Trouble is, the collateral damage would be to the many, many ordinary Muslims, who would be offended by my behaviour. And I choose not to cause offence to respectable people whenever it can be avoided. I even put PBUH following the Profit Mohamed’s name (PBUH) when I mentioned him above, because I thought some of the respectable people who read this blog and happen to be Muslims, might be mildly pleased that I had. It’s a ‘respect for other people’ issue.
So, my message for you is to respect other people. If we all did that, it wouldn’t be such a bad old world.
Happy New 2015!
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
It’s traditional at this time of year to have a sort of review of the past year, outlining key events and so on. Since I did bugger-all of any worth whatsoever in 2014, I won’t waste your time. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’d like to achieve in 2015.
As ever, for those that don’t really know me (which is all of you – this blog is kept strictly a secret from anyone I actually interact with, just in case they laugh at me), some context will be required before I tell you my dreams and goals for this year.
When Young OfClayton (That’s me. Pay attention!) hadn’t had the joy and ambition ground away out of him by life, he went to college, full of dreams and aspirations for a bright future (what a gullible and naive git he was). His first year at college was utterly wasted because most of the time he should have spent learning stuff was actually spent playing snooker. Anyway, through what must’ve been divine intervention, he actually passed his exams and his coursework and was accepted for a second year on the course. The course was a sandwich course, and the second year was spent working. This was good for Young OfClayton, because your evenings and weekends are your own, and nobody gives a shit if you waste them on non-productive pursuits. The third year saw Young OfClayton back at college, with a very different attitude to the waste-of-space that barely scraped through his first year. Things would change this year; no more would I waste my time playing snooker. And true to my word, I didn’t. Instead, I wasted my time playing ‘Elite’.
I feel I must explain what Elite is, though I’m sure 90% of my audience are familiar with it. It was a video game played on the BBC Micro. It was the original and seminal space trading game, in which you played the pilot of a spaceship. The aim (unsurprisingly) was to fly around and shoot things. It was a really, really playable game that you could easily become totally immersed in. The graphics were ground-breaking, the universe it existed in was believable, the action was thick and fast. It was . . . just . . . totally . . . frickin . . . awesome. And I played it a LOT.
As an aside, there is now a new game called ‘Elite: Dangerous’. This is effectively the same game, by the same people, but brought up to date. If the ‘white-lines-plotted-on-black’ of Elite was awesome, can you imagine how awesome it is when displayed using 21st century computer graphics? Mere words just cannot do it justice. It is the Mona Lisa, The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Vth, Grand Unified Field Theory. It is a thing of unrivalled joy and beauty to behold.
So, what are my hopes and dreams for 2015? Basically, I aspire to spend every hour not spent sleeping or pissing, playing that game. However, I know deep down in my soul that this ambition is never meant to be. Mrs OfClayton won’t let me. I haven’t asked her, but I know she would never allow it; what sane woman would? Instead I shall have to squander my time fulfilling my responsibilities to my wife and household, earning the respect of my community, and being a productive member of society. What a waste!
Today is Christmas Day, so I've obviously planned my twice fortnightly blog really badly. It's traditional for those addressing a group at this time of year to offer up an appropriately festive greeting, and so I offer the following to you, dear readers.
1. Christians. “Merry Christmas.” (I bet you’re mortified at what your solemn religious date has become)
2. Observers of non-Christian religions. Sometime around now, I’m sure you guys have your own particular it's-past-the-mid-winter-solstice-so-things-can-only-get-better celebration (do let me know if your particular religion doesn’t. I’m interested in that stuff). So, “Happy it's-past-the-mid-winter-solstice-so-things-can-only-get-better celebration!”
3. Non-religious folk (northern hemisphere only – antipodeans have sunshine already). Keep your head down and think of Spring – we’ll get through this thing together.
Anyway, it’s also traditional to give gifts, and I have a gift for you all. Seriously. You doubt me? Here we go.
I am the following three things:
A fairly frequent flier
Owner of a weasel-like mindset
Numbers one and two cause me misery when the [obscenity deleted] in front reclines their seat. Number three has provided me with an easy and free solution that I will now share with you. Please pass this round to all your friends, tweet it, put it on Facebook, etc. I would be delighted if it went viral.
Before the aircraft starts moving, familiarise yourself with, and practice the actions that follow.
As soon as the aircraft is off the ground, take out the In Flight magazine. Read it if you will, but the main reason for taking it out is as a time saver for number three. Don’t let reading it distract you, because number three must be done very quickly.
AS SOON AS the seat belt light goes off, drop your tray table. You will see it is supported by an armature at either side.
Place the In Flight Magazine on the tray table with the spine away from you, overhanging the left or right of the table by about 5cm
Slide the magazine firmly forwards, allowing it to drop off the far end of the tray table and downwards.
Apply downward pressure on the spine to ensure it is firmly wedged between the armature and the seat in front. It is now physically impossible for the passenger in front to recline their seat.
Put headphones on, and pretend to be asleep if they get up.
DO NOT recline your own seat – it would make you a hypocrite.
I expect to be trolled by lots of people saying, “I paid for a reclining seat, and it would be wrong of you to deny me of that.” (Except they would liberally sprinkle those words with Fs, and Cs, and probably call me Hitler – and the spelling and grammar would be appalling). Some may even threaten to rape/kill myself/my family.
That’s fine – the internet is a free medium, and free speech is paramount. But trolls should consider this before posting: Imagine aircraft seats were designed with a little switch in the back (operated by the passenger in the seat behind), to lock/unlock the reclining mechanism. In what position would you place that switch, for the seat in front of YOU?
Enjoy your gift. It will last you a lifetime.
Warning: You might nod off while reading this blog, so make sure you’re positioned safely, and that the area around you is free from hazards. In order to protect your safety, I’d better make it just a little bit steamy, just in case. Ah! Now you’re interested . . . .
Anyway, are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
Welcome to GhostOfClayton’s Twice Fortnightly blog. Allow me to introduce myself to new bloggees. I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses. I deal my own deck, sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces. Yes, that is another song lyric. It would take more of an effort of will than I can currently muster, to summon up the motivation to look up who sang this. I was always curious about the lyric ‘I deal my own deck’. Is that maybe a little euphemistic? Probably not. It was penned quite a while ago, long before we started to live in such cynical times.
Are we living in more cynical times? Certainly the times are more sexually open than they once were. A sex shop opened up near us a couple of years back. Sorry . . . an ‘adult store’. That’s nothing new, I know. A sex shop opened up in our town when I was about 12, much to the great delight and amusement of my schoolboy chums and me. The windows were obscured, and middle-aged men in raincoats with their hands in their pockets were regularly seen walking furtively in and out. That last bit’s not true. I never saw anyone going in or out. Which is probably why it closed down soon after.
But this new adult store seems all very overt, and aimed at the young, experimental couples market, keen to find new ways to pleasure and enjoy one-another. Far from the boarded-window shame of the 1970s sex shop, this adult store even goes as far as to stand an advertising board on the verge of the A road, opposite. I first noticed it when it said ’50 Shades toys now in stock’, together with a picture of a collection of sex toys (some of which I really couldn’t identify, or imagine how they were used). This was clearly an attempt to jump squarely onto the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ bandwagon.
Have you read ‘50 Shades of Grey’? I haven’t. Here’s what I know about it: it’s about a rich guy called Mr Grey. We know he’s rich, because he owns a dungeon, just for sex. Now I don’t own a dungeon, but even if I were to allocate one of the rooms at OfClayton Towers just to be used for sex, it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Within a couple of weeks, I would be putting other things in there. Christmas presents is a good example at this time of year. Mrs OfClayton would start hanging washing in there to dry when the weather outside wasn’t suitable. It’d be a great place to keep all the things I’m getting ready for my next tour . . . . and wouldn’t it be easier in January to dump the Christmas decorations in there, ready to be put up in the loft the next time I go up (but you can bet they’d still be in the sex dungeon next December). That’s how we know he’s rich – there are no socks on the radiators in his sex dungeon.
Then there’s the female protagonist, Anastasia Steele. Now, that name wasn’t just plucked out of thin air. A lot of thought, even maths, has gone into that name. It is calculated to the nth decimal place to be just sexy enough, without being a pornstar name. Imagine, if you will, someone called Anastasia Steele. Conjure a picture of her in your head. You are imagining someone attractive, confident, not to be messed with, but with an underlying vulnerability ripe for exploitation by someone rich enough to have a recreational sex dungeon. I am hugely attracted to Anastasia Steele, but deep down I know that my attraction is to be forever unrequited, because my BDSM dungeon has got Boxes, Decorating Stuff, and a Mower in it.
Warning: In this blog, I do use the word ‘Bitch’ more than once. I’m not a misogynist.
Welcome to GhostOfClayton’s Twice Fortnightly blog. Allow me to introduce myself to new bloggees. I’m a bitch, I’m a mother, I’m a child, I’m a lover, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint. Yes, I stole that. It’s a lyric from Meredith Brooks’ very catchy track, ‘Bitch’. She goes on to say, “I’m your hell, I’m your dream, I’m nothing in-between. You know you wouldn’t want it any other way.” I always feel that the long-suffering Mr Brooks probably would want it another way. Especially after the first 10 years of marriage. She sounds quite high-maintenance to me.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
Well here we are once again, that annual midwinter dog and pony show they call Christmas . . . hang on a minute . . . I’m getting déjà vu here . . . that’s right, I already did a blog all about Christmas. I shall just refer you to it. You can find it here. That’s saved me a good few minutes of my life. For those interested, I used it to go and get a cup of coffee.
I love the Java jive, and it loves me
Mrs OfClayton has started to make me tea, if ever she puts the kettle on (reading that back, it sounded a little snide. It wasn’t meant to be. We don’t have any fixed system, or keep records, but I reckon we are about fair and equitable when it comes to making a hot beverage). The reason for that is that she has recently got it into her head that I drink too much coffee when I’m not tour-guiding. Little does she know, but I probably drink too much coffee when I am tour-guiding. I don’t smoke, don’t take any non-prescription drugs, drink alcohol only very occasionally, and am on an almost permanent diet, so coffee is my only vice. Surely it’s OK to indulge one chemical addiction, isn’t it?
I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog that I need to have paid work to keep the wolf from the door during the off-season. I’m reminded of the winter when I was given a job with a project team that were helping to implement a computer system for a large pharmaceutical manufacturing site. The team had been relocated into a portakabin some way outside the main office block, and thus isolated from the drinks dispenser. The portakabin was ordered by a guy called Ken, and so became referred to as The Kendyhouse. Anyway, it was a particularly bleak and gusty winter that year. The winds did their best to ensure that what little coffee was left in your cup after carrying it to the Kendyhouse, was tepid at best. Not a happy situation for caffeine addicts like myself and the contract programmers on the team (contract programmers need it to stimulate creativity, I think). The project manager relented, and bought in a filter machine for us, which sat on a filing cabinet right next to my desk. This meant that I barely had to lift one arse-cheek off my chair in order to refill my coffee mug. Happy situation for me, if not my body.
My body was to get more bad news when a new contract programmer arrived about a week or so after the filter machine; you see, he had come to us from Taylors of Harrogate. For those not aware of this company, they are one of the leading suppliers of teas and coffees in the UK, and are positioned quite ‘up’ market. Now, whilst working at Taylors of Harrogate, this contract programmer had acquired (by fair means or foul, I don’t know, but I do know he didn’t pay for them) a large amount of their premium after dinner filter coffee ‘Hot Lava Java’, a dark, rich, aromatic, and highly caffeinated coffee, which he gladly donated to the cause.
So there I was, drinking mug after mug of very strong coffee. I didn’t feel any medical detriment at all, if I’m honest. The only real detriment was to my conscience. I felt guilty that I was probably chemically abusing my body in ways that I daren’t look up on the internet. I wasn’t on my own either. I sat opposite a bright young lad with a prestigious honours degree in geology, who’d been brought in to do low-level paper-pushing at some obscenely low pay grade. He too was feeling the twinges of guilt, and so (after a particularly heavy coffee session one Friday) we decided that we would give up coffee.
I will now describe the symptoms that plagued me following the withdrawal of my drug of choice:
Headache. A persistent, gripping pain like a tightening band all around my head, just above the eyes. If you’ve ever seen a Vincent Price film called ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’?
? That’s how it felt. Co-codamol wouldn’t touch it.
Violent mood swings.
Shooting pains up the arms.
Unable to concentrate.
It was the worst 15 minutes of my life.
I jest, of course. I lasted until Saturday afternoon, when I had a cup of tea (people say there’s more caffeine in tea than coffee. Look them square in the eye and make sure they know that they’re talking bullshit.) By Saturday evening, I’d had a cup of Nescafe, just to ease the symptoms, you understand. More on Sunday. By Monday I was back to square one.
I have vowed never to give up coffee again. It was a bitch!
Warning: This blog contains a word that I’m not sure about, but may be a swear word. I don’t even know how to spell it, so you’re probably on safe ground.
Welcome to GhostOfClayton’s Twice Fortnightly blog. Allow me to introduce myself to new bloggees (yeah, right!). I am a tour guide specialising in hiking tours of Hadrian’s Wall, and am widely regarded as the thinking woman’s man-totty. 50% of the previous statement is true, which should be a guide to how much of the following you should believe.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
How to reach the moon in 200 very easy steps
Is getting your hair to the moon the same as ‘you’ reaching the moon? If not, how much of ‘you’ would have to reach the moon to say ‘you’ had reached the moon? Is a strawberry dead? These are the sort of philosophical questions that I won’t be touching with a barge pole this week. What they do do, is give me the opportunity to tell those of you who haven’t already heard about it, all about a really exciting endeavour that’s doing the news rounds at the moment. You see, a blog is a very powerful tool for good. I can use it to reach out to all of you (alright, both of you), and spread the word about how you can make the world a better place (arguably).
I am referring to a little enterprise called Lunar Mission One. You can read all about it on their website (www.lunarmissionone.com), or you can hear it from my inexpert and opinionated self. The decision is yours. Ah . . . you’re still here . . . . good choice.
You see, some boffins have taken it upon themselves to put a probe on the moon, and are funding this gargantuan project using kickstarter money. This is the on-line equivalent of sitting outside Marks & Spencers with a begging bowl and a bored dog, although the ends are considerably more worthy than four cans of super strength lager. So, what is my incentive to dedicate part of the OfClayton Fortunes to this very worthy venture? Well, at the cheaper end (three British pounds) you get “Our eternal thanks”. Nice, but as OfClayton Senior used to say, put eternal thanks in a bucket, and you’ve got an empty bucket. Part with more wonga, and the benefits steadily increase, through a subscription to the newsletter, membership of the ‘Missions Club’, and so on, until (at £60, you can ‘Reserve your place in space’). Yes, honestly. No doubt, you are now dreaming of the moment you place your boot print in the dusty Lunar regolith and say something hugely profound about the size of your step, before a bunny hopping tour of a cratered landscape, under the patient gaze of the blue marble that is Mother Earth.
No. Put that right out of your head.
‘Reserving your place in space’ bags a few kilobytes on a USB stick (or similar) for you to write your digitised photo/message/symphony, etc., and that USB stick will live out eternity on the moon. At least until some far-future astronaut tries to plug it into his iPhone 42 and a ‘501 error’ is returned due to compatibility issues (even after he switches it off and back on again.)
No, you will need to have to start shelling out much more before ‘Your place in space’ is realised. £200 will put you on the moon. Not all of you, granted. You will have to leave a small part of you behind. That small part will consist of everything that isn’t a single strand of your hair. But you will be on the moon for eternity.
Do I sound cynical? I am not. This is fricking awesome stuff. I wish it well, and really hope it comes off. That’s why I’m blogging about it, to try and spread the word. Look, I’ve even put sensible tags at the top of this blog. My track record isn’t good for taking tags seriously, so that should tell you something. So, will I be investing? I’m still torn. My ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude to money is apparent to anyone who has followed my adventures so far. So, yes, it would be quite plausible if a few quid did ‘easy go’ towards this laudable enterprise. Trouble is, when you have an ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude to money, and you need some money to fulfil your duty to the second half of that attitude, you find that the money you gained from the former half already ‘easy went’ somewhere else.
Sod it . . I can always sell a kidney. It’s not as if I’ll be taking it with me on my trip to the moon.
The Moon on a Stick
Looking at the above, it’s apparent that Mohamed won’t be going to the Mountain, figuratively speaking, anytime soon. So you know what you want? You want the Moon on a Stick. Ha Ha. A large group of people will recognise that catchphrase, albeit a Venn Diagrammatically discrete group from the group of people who read this (i.e. you). Hold onto that thought, though. Clarity will come later.
As most (both) of you know, I spend an awful lot of time in planes, trains and automobiles. I used to listen to a huge amount of music to while away the hours, but fan that I am of good music, I did start to yearn for something a little more intellectually stimulating after Regina Spektor’s ‘The Calculation’ came round for the 6th time. It was then I started listening to Podcasts. Now, there are prolific podcasters, and high quality podcasters, but very few who manage to pull off both tricks at the same time. One podcaster who seems to achieve this with a reasonable degree of ease is a comedian called Richard Herring. He, along with his comedy partner of the time (a guy called Stewart Lee) were very big in the UK in the late 80s and early nineties, but then disappeared from the schedules to a degree. Stewart Lee is now back on the small screen now and again, but Richard Herring has eschewed the strict requirements of language/behaviour/taste imposed by big broadcasters, in favour of the more experimental (and un-censored) comedy vehicle that is the internet.
Now for that moment of clarity I promised you earlier. A sort of catchphrase of Richard Herring’s when he and Stewart Lee were on the telly was, “You want the Moon on a stick.”
You might think that the above two articles aren’t too closely related over and above the inclusion of the word ‘Moon’. Not so. You see Richard Herring is also using crowd funding to raise cash for comedy projects delivered over the internet, and I’d also like to use the power of the blog to spread the good word. www.richardherring.com is where to go to donate, or to find routes to all his free comedy material. It has my personal recommendation. It will make you laugh, and therefore make you happy.
So which should you invest in? Furthering the knowledge of the human race, or furthering the happiness of the human race? That’s another one of those philosophical questions I won’t be touching with a barge pole.
Welcome to GhostOfClayton’s Twice Fortnightly blog. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
An investigative report into dating websites
Before I give you my in-depth expose on dating websites, let me tell you how my interest was initially sparked. In order to do that, I will have to transport you way, way back in time to meet the young OfClayton just as he took his first fresh-faced steps into that biggest of all Mug’s Games, working for a living. The boy you are to meet had found that a regular pay packet had delivered a previously unaccustomed degree of wealth. That boy also lived in a village where there were few places to spend it, other than the pub.
At about this time another young chap moved in next door but one, who soon joined a little circle of Young OfClayton’s drinking buddies. This man’s name was not ‘Jimmy’, but we all called him Jimmy, because he called everyone else Jimmy. That logic seemed to make perfect sense at the time, so we’ll move on. Jimmy was a whizz with anything mechanical, and scratched a living by fixing tractors and other agricultural machinery. He rented a couple of bays of a workshop from another, though quite elderly, tractor-fixer call Th’od Norm. For those unfamiliar with the dialect, this translates as ‘The Old Norm’.
One day, The-Yet-To-Be-Mrs-Jimmy phoned Th’od Norm in her capacity as someone who worked for his insurance broker. Once the business had been transacted, Th’od Norm asked The-Yet-To-Be-Mrs-Jimmy if she had a boyfriend. She answered in the negative, and Th’od Norm said something like “Hang on a minute, I’ll get you one”, handed the phone to Jimmy, and to cut a long story short, within a few short years The-Yet-To-Be-Mrs-Jimmy became The-Is-Now-Actually-Mrs-Jimmy. That’s pretty much how dating worked in those days. No need for websites like yourmatesgotagirlfriendsoyoushouldhaveone.com, when there were people like Th’od Norm in the world.
Anyway, it so happened that The-Is-Now-Actually-Mrs-Jimmy had a friend who was single at the time, a relationship status shared by the boy that was OfClayton, so they invited us both along to that most romantic of venues, the Birmingham Motor Show, and to cut a long story short, the young lady in question became Mrs OfClayton a few short years later.
Let’s now wind the clock forward to a mere couple of years ago. Jimmy and The-Is-Now-Actually-Mrs-Jimmy had enjoyed many years of happy marriage, when out of the blue something very unexpected happened. Jimmy walked out. Left for good. Why? I really don’t want to air his dirty washing in public, but suffice it to say there was no third party involved, I had a small degree of sympathy for his reasons (but only a small one), and Mrs OfClayton thought he was being a selfish bastard (her language can get fruity when roused).
Obviously, The-Can-No-Longer-Realistically-Be-Called-Mrs-Jimmy was distraught at first, but (as most people do) she did eventually get used to her new single life. To a reasonable degree, she got over what must have been a very traumatic episode, and started to move on. The problem was, times had changed in the intervening 30 years. You see, when people from Th’od Norm’s generation played Cupid, it was all very direct. When people from The-Is-Now-Actually-Mrs-Jimmy’s generation played Cupid, it was a little more subtle. Nowadays, Cupid has moved so far away from the direct approach, that people need to take matters in to their own hands much more than in the past. It wasn’t too long ago that people needing to find a partner might place a little ad in a dedicated column in the local newspaper, but society tended to judge those people as being just a little desperate. Technology moved on, and the same system moved to the internet, but still there was just a hint of desperation about it. Now, however, internet dating is not only widely accepted, it has become a fairly standard way to hook-up with a mate. The-Can-No-Longer-Realistically-Be-Called-Mrs-Jimmy took to it like a duck to water. She lost a few pounds, smartened herself up, bought some clothes that showed off her new figure to alluring effect, and now pretty much uses Match.com like a lending library. Good luck to her.
So there’s been an interesting social change going on over the last 30 years, which deserves some thorough investigation. Here’s what I know (in actual fact, this is my current perception, not based on any actual facts or research):
Match.com was one of the first dating websites. It seems to be the most popular, with a pretty much all-encompassing demographic.
There’s also eHarmony, which seems to be for a slightly ‘better-class’ of love-seeker. I put that in quotes so as not to seem a bit like a snob – I’m aware it didn’t work.
Recently advertised on late-ish night TV has been a website known as UniformDating.com, which is for “people who work in uniform, or fancy those that do”. The first bit of that sentence, I’m fine with. Firefighters, Police, etc. work unsociable hours, and so maybe need a bit of help to find the right ‘one’. The second part of that sentence seems to lend it a slightly seedy undertone that I can’t quite put my finger on. And yes, this is a little hypocritical when my views on the nurses who work for the Blood Transfusion Service are already a matter of record.
If you’re ‘same-sex’, then there’s a well-known app called Grindr (pronounced 'Grinder') you can bung on your smartphone.
The equivalent for none-same-sex people (I think) is called Tinder (or is it Tindr?). I once saw a newspaper article about it where the headline contained the words “. . . gets you more ass than . . ”, so my assumption is that this is for those seeking a more casual hookup.
There was another one whose name I can’t remember, but it was advertised on late night TV for a while. It unashamedly positioned itself as the website for people who pretty much wanted to cut straight to the nooky, without all that tedious mucking about with single red roses and meeting the parents/kids.
That concludes my in-depth analysis of dating websites. OK, it wasn’t all that ‘in-depth’. You see, I really daren’t do any further research in case Mrs OfClayton looks at my browser history and jumps to the wrong conclusion. Especially given her reaction to Jimmy’s departure from the marital home.
Hello all. Welcome to the GhostOfClayton Twice Fortnightly blog. You OK? Let’s do this thing.
WARNING: There is no bad language in this blog entry whatsoever. So if you were looking for some, then tough sh*t.
Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for a strange and terrible tale of spine-tingling supernatural events, that will chill your blood to the very bone.
There have been some mysterious goings-on at OfClayton Towers these past few years. An unquiet spirit walks its dusty hallways. I’ve never actually witnessed this ghostly spectre, but I know it must be there because of the unnerving evidence it leaves behind it. What is this evidence? It leaves a used tea bag in the spoon rest on the kitchen top, by the kettle. Now I know that a sceptic will be saying that these could easily have been left by Mrs OfClayton or myself, but I have proof to the contrary: You see, the kitchen bin is only three paces away (I’ve counted them), and which mortal is so lazy as to be unwilling to walk three paces to the bin with a used tea bag? Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever’s left (no matter how improbable) must be the truth. . . So it can only be a ghost.
Unsettling as this spectral presence is to me, I still smile when I think of it. You see, every time the phantom goes back to leave its next tea bag, it must be taken aback to find that the previous tea bag has mysteriously vanished from the spoon rest. It must think that the tea-bag has been spirited away to the bin by the Little Magic Tea Bag Pixie.
. . . from which I can segue neatly to . . .
Another bucket list item well and truly ticked off. For my 50th Birthday, Mrs OfClayton bought me a voucher for a ‘Forest Segway Experience’. I cashed the voucher in on Saturday and spent a very exciting hour whizzing around in Dalby Forest on a Segway. Statistically, you’re not likely to have been on a Segway before, and so I have one piece of advice for you. DO IT. I really enjoyed it. A great feeling, and very easy to pick up how the controls work. Are you still here?
Warning: This blog contains the word 'shit', and possibly other words like 'shit'. If you're not comfortable with reading the word 'shit (or other words similar to 'shit'), then I advise you not to read on, just in case you encounter the word 'shit'. You have been warned! (About the word 'shit').
Hello everybody. Welcome to the GhostOfClayton Twice Fortnightly blog. Comfy? Off we go.
Disco's here, dat goes der
I genuinely doubt that anyone has followed this blog from its early incarnations, and who could blame them? After my long hiatus, I read a few back to help me get into the swing, and was quite disappointed by how amateurish ‘Past OfClayton’ sounded as he penned them (we shouldn’t expect too much from him. As I established in an earlier blog, that boy’s an idiot!) However, if by some strange quirk of fate, you have followed it from its early beginnings, you’ll know that I often spend New Year’s Eve in the club in the sleepy little village of Aquis of the Romans (at least ever since Mrs OfClayton put a stop to me working in sunnier climes over the festive period). This year will be no exception, but I will have a job to do.
The Aquis of the Romans Residents’ Association have members who are always regaling the others with tales of the glory days of New Year’s Eves in the Club. How a disco would be held, and huge numbers of village residents would come along to party the dregs of the old year away, and celebrate the coming of the New Year. How so many people turned up, you could barely squeeze in the door. Halcyon days!
So a few of the guys (mainly aging rockers such as yours truly) hatched a plan. We could beg, steal or borrow some disco equipment, each make up a playlist of suitably rockin’ tracks on our phones, plug the latter into the former, and “Hey, Presto!” a cheap disco. All washed down with cheap beer, and the Landlady’s Pie ‘n’ Peas (you can’t beat foods that are combined by use of an ‘n’ . . . . bangers ‘n’ mash, fish ‘n’ chips, etc.) The perfect evening.
Beg/Steal/Borrow disco equipment. Done.
Arrange food. Done.
Print tickets and posters. Done.
Get a list of popular disco tracks. Hmm. Problem.
Any member of the zero-sized group of people who have followed this blog right from its humble beginnings will know that my taste in music isn’t all that suitable for use in a disco. Any of you care to help me out with requests?
The trouble with being a tour guide is that no-one’s going to get rich off it. That means that alternative employment must be sought to bridge the gap when not doing it, and this year I have been lucky enough to secure a new position (albeit only up until January). It’s covering a health and safety position in a Warehouse during a busy period, and I have to say, I’m enjoying it very much. There are all sorts of very blokey things like huge articulated (unlike some of the drivers) lorries coming and going, forklifts buzzing about, and some really, really high racking (with associated really, really high trucks to reach those dizzy heights.) I have to wear hard hat, safety glasses, steel toe capped shoes, and a high viz jacket, because of all that danger. I love it. That’s why I hope no-one I work with ever reads this blog.
You see, I am a fairly typical second child. OfClayton Major (my elder sister) has a very sensible, responsible, safety-minded personality, whereas OfClayton Minor (me) is much more of a risk-taker; not quite ‘Death or Glory’, but very much ‘Shit or Bust’. In short, not the sort of individual you’d want to keep you safe from, say, being impaled on the forks of a passing stacker truck. “It’ll be right”, is always my response whenever Mrs OfClayton relates her latest worry to me (telling me I shouldn’t be using chainsaws whilst up trees, and the like) . . . And yet here I am, still alive. So I must’ve been right all these years. Anyway, just to show what a day in my life is like, please have a look at this (surprisingly good) forklift training video – it’s in German with English subtitles.
Warning: This blog contains a few mild swear words. They are all used gratuitously, and are by no means required by the context. I just felt like using them.
Hello everybody. Welcome to the GhostOfClayton Twice Fortnightly Blog (twice-fortnightly until I can no longer be arsed). Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
I had a toothache this week. Not too painful, but sufficient to make chewing on the right side of my mouth an uncomfortable experience. It went away the next day, so I’m obviously going to do the male thing, and forget it ever happened. But it got me thinking about teeth.
The defining characteristic of a Brit, in the eyes of our friends in the US, is that our teeth aren’t up to much. Now, looking at the OfClayton ivory collection during ablutions, I can’t put up too much of a spirited defence, if I’m honest. They’re all there, but they don’t have the kind of uniformity a US Citizen would expect, and they’re certainly well short of that American whiteness you could see by in the dark . . . and anything astern of my canine teeth have a distinctly metallic theme going on, in between the grinding surfaces.
Why? I visit the dentist regularly. I have an electric toothbrush, and use it until it tells me to stop. I use a branded toothpaste.
But will these things help me to get a gleaming set of perfect gnashers? The simple answer is ‘no’. As you get older, dentine builds up in the teeth, and they go yellow. Having them whitened is purely a cosmetic thing. Teeth grow at imperfect angles, and only if the angle becomes quite severe, or if you want them to be perfectly aligned for cosmetic reasons, will you have scaffolding erected around them to push them gradually straight. Mine were always just sufficiently straight that braces were never considered. Also to be factored in is the matter of fillings. When I was a kid, the fillings you had were metallic and contained mercury. By the time white fillings came along, my teeth were already liberally dotted with dark patches, and so one or two white fillings would be an exercise in futility.
Then there’s the cost to consider. Like every right-thinking UK resident, I balk at the need to spend any of my hard-earned cash on healthcare, even the small matter of the tenner it costs for a filling. So if the dentist has the affront to suggest I stump an additional fiver for something merely cosmetic like a white filling (and free of mercury, but let’s not examine that too closely), then obviously I’m going to look back at him with my most withering of sceptical gazes. I mean, if I’d had a bad road accident on my way to the dentist, was helicoptered to the nearest trauma centre, had a series of major operations, spent 6 months recovering in hospital with round the clock nursing care, and the latest medications, I wouldn’t need to trouble my cheque book at all. And yet, if I made it to the dentist with all limbs still intact, “Hey, Presto!”, another ten pounds disappears from the OfClayton family fortune. And aren’t dentists all failed doctors anyway? They should be cheaper! Before I upset too many dentists, I don’t believe that for a second, and very much credit dentists with the respect they deserve. I’m merely opening up a window into the British mentality with regard to actually paying for healthcare (shudder).
That was my first theory about why British teeth are seen as unfit to grace US TV screens. My second is more sinister.
Imagine I was a pharmaceutical magnate, with a vast fortune to invest in a new brand of toothpaste. I have two business models to choose from:
Business Model A
I invest the majority of the money into dental research to make sure that the active ingredients going into my product are the most efficacious in terms of tooth decay prevention, limitation of plaque and tartar build-up, and enamel strengthening. All these ingredients are expensive, and require both technically advanced plant and a skilled workforce, to ensure consistent manufacture of the product, and high quality standards. Because of the cost of raw materials, its unit cost is also going to be high. This puts it at the top end of the market, but any lifelong user of this toothpaste is going to be rewarded with sound dental health for the duration. The modest amount of investment remaining can be used for marketing during the launch campaign to tell people an only slightly exaggerated version of the truth about my toothpaste.
Business Model B – Part 1
I create a toothpaste from very cheap ingredients (which would only be dentally beneficial by coincidence) and add a minty fresh flavouring ingredient, and a bright white paste. Manufacturing predominantly consists of mixing these things together and putting them in a tube, so plant is cheap, as are the unskilled workforce. Just enough is done to satisfy the regulator that I’m not giving everyone mouth cancer. This leaves me with a large chunk of my investment still unspent. Good, because I’ll be using it to blitzkrieg the media with ad campaigns featuring young, attractive people with perfect teeth splashing in sun-soaked waves or skiing in bright-white mountains, with smiles that The Joker would be proud of. Throw in 2.2 perfect kids and a bit of bullshit science, and I’ve positioned my toothpaste as an effective product you can rely on, used by perfect people that real people aspire to be like. Now here’s the clever bit. The pricing. I’m selling what I’ve hoodwinked Jo Public into believing is a high-end, expensive product. I just need to make Jo Public think that it is expensive in the shops they’re not in at the moment. Just this week only, Tesco are doing it on two for one. Next week only, it’ll be 50% off. And so on, until you change the package to an even shinier one, add an extra claim, change the adverts to ones with more convincing science, and add ‘Ultra’ to the name. Same shit – different box.
OK. Of course people will eventually get wise to Business Model B, and switch brands. That’s the power of the free market, if people don’t like it, they’ll vote with their feet. Or will they? This is toothpaste we’re talking about here, remember, not glue. You’re not going to realise the brand of toothpaste you use wasn’t as good as you thought it would be until you’re in your seventies. And then you have no frame of reference for comparison. That last filling you had? Did you blame your toothpaste? Did you go and switch brands? You didn’t. And even if you had . . . . . .
Business Model B – Part 2
Part two is easy. Just set up two or three apparently competing brands working to the same model. There’s only so much room on supermarket shelves for toothpaste.
Question 1: Which business model would give me a bigger return on my investment?
Question 2: Which business model is favoured by the manufacturer of the toothpaste you use?
I haven’t blogged for a while, and I’m now back in the UK until February, so I thought I’d give it a go.
In a New York State of Mind
On the 5th October I bade a fond farewell to New York City and returned to these shores. It was an interesting goodbye, because this year I’d seen much more of New York State; it’s always good to see a place in context, rather than just living in the little bubble of the city. The reason is that I’ve been doing a new tour, and I’ll tell you a little about it (this isn’t to try and sell it, but merely because it’s really interesting.) The backbone of this 2-week tour is a rail journey from Toronto to New York City, stopping off for a few days here and there. Toronto itself isn’t too exciting, if I’m honest, though walking on the glass floor at the top of the CN Tower is quite an experience. I don’t have a particular fear of heights, but even I hesitated for just a second before stepping out over the abyss.
The first stop off along the way is Niagara Falls. Have you been? I urge you to do so; the falls are every bit as impressive as everyone says. The other tip I have is not to be scared of the border: walk both the Canadian and the US sides. I took a group down into the Cave of the Winds (US side), and they were very impressed; you get very up-close-and-personal with the falls (that is to say you get wet). Niagara Falls itself, as a place, is less impressive. Extremely tacky. The reality is that once you’ve done everything the falls have to offer, the only thing you can do in that area is man-made entertainment. My advice? Only stay one night – and take a waterproof.
Next stop is Ithaca – a town in the Finger Lakes region. The geography is all gorges and waterfalls, and it’s also home to Cornell University. A lovely, lovely place, especially if you like gorges, waterfalls, and Ivy League universities.
Then we stop off to do some more serious hiking in the Catskills, before continuing to New York City for a long weekend in the Big Apple.
Don't Sleep in the Subway, Darling
Due to my blog-o-pause, one thing I didn’t tell you about was a little incident I had on the New York Subway. This was on a New York City tour, one bright and sunny Tuesday morning. The plan for the day was to take the group all the way downtown to the very southern tip of Manhattan, and then walk up the Esplanade along the Hudson River to a pre-booked appointment at the 9/11 Memorial. People could then visit for as long as they wanted, and go off to enjoy their only free afternoon of the week.
Over breakfast, I hadn’t felt hungry. This will seem odd to those of you who know me; my ample frame is testament to the fact that I’m not a picky eater. I ate some of a bowl of cornflakes, and that was about it. By the time 0900 rolled around and I headed out to the subway, I really was feeling sub-par. The subway was absolutely rammed that morning, with miserable looking commuters on their way to Wall Street. I squeezed myself in against a door and stood, some of the group standing around me. During the journey, I started to feel worse and worse until I realised that I had to sit down (preferably not still in the very crowded carriage). As the train pulled into 14th Street, I decided I would have to get out and sit on the platform. I turned to my nearest group member and said something like, “I feel really ill. I’m getting out for a sit down at the next station. Get out at South Ferry, and I’ll catch up with you in 15 minutes.”
Then, the train pulled to a halt, the doors opened, and suddenly I went to a really happy place. Not sure where, or what went on while I was there, but I just remember it was a really happy place. I smile as I remember back to what a really happy place it was. I was wrenched reluctantly away from my happy place to find a number of concerned people leaning over me and saying “Sir, are you alright?” “Oh God!”, I thought, as reality flooded back, “I’m still on this #*!£*ing train!”
I was helped to my feet, and dropped into a seat that some kind soul had vacated especially for me, and at that point ‘Mike’ turned up. Mike was just the sort of guy you need in a crisis. He was a New York Cop, who was making his way down to his precinct for the final time. It was his last day before retirement, and he was on his way to perform his last official duty, which was to hand in his badge. Whilst I was away in my happy place, he’d achieved the following:
Taken control of the situation
Notified the subway authorities
Held the train
Ensured an ambulance was called
Cleared a space around me
Ensured a nearby seat was free for me
Berated some Wall Street commuters (who were moaning about the inconvenience) by shouting “I’ll hold this train for as long as I need to – it’ll be here an hour if necessary”
I heard the latter as this superman was helping me into the seat. Anyway, moving events a little further forward, I soon regained enough strength to walk out onto the platform, and the train could finally pull out of the station (the Wall Street gang would get to work, the US economy was safe once more). Whilst sitting on the cold concrete of the subway floor, I handed over a map of New York to a responsible group member, told him how to get to the 9/11 Memorial, and what to tell them (they’re a great bunch and I knew they would sort it out). That effectively discharged my official duties for the rest of the day, though I did ask for a volunteer to escort me back to the hotel.
Next, the ambulance arrived. Now I don’t wish to upset any readers in the US, and this is based solely on this one encounter, but your ambulance service leaves a lot to be desired. Allow me to explain. I do have a certain amount of medical training (Occupational First Aid, and Wilderness First Aid), and by that time I had self-diagnosed. A pressure in my bowel had started to build. Not that usual pressure, but that certain type of pressure that says, “whilst there’s no hurry at the moment, things could turn catastrophic very quickly if you don’t plan to be within a few feet of a toilet in the next hour.” This pressure, I knew, was a result of liquid being absorbed into the intestine in a desperate effort to flush through the burgeoning colonies of virulent bacteria that had set up home there. The loss of liquid from the blood stream had resulted in a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing lack of oxygen to the brain, causing “Good Night, OfClayton!”. Given that I had a gastric infection, the ambulance crew didn’t even wear latex gloves before examining me. I’ve dealt with Paramedics in the UK, France and Madeira, and in all cases they put gloves on before touching the patient.
I sent the ambulance crew away (think of the cost!), and SuperMike helped me up the steps to street level, and helped me into a taxi. What a guy! He was taking advantage of the NYPD’s generous (and very well-deserved) retirement package to move to a tropical island and open a scuba diving school. I wish him well. I only hope that I’m that good when I have crises to deal with. What a guy! (Him, not me.)
The grimly gastric details of the rest of that day (spent alone in my hotel room) must be kept from you for reasons of good taste. Suffice it to say that it’s a good job that the toilet and washbasin were close to one another.
Anyway, to summarise the rest of the week: I know a guide who lives in New York who was happy to take my group (and $100) from me on the Wednesday, and by Wednesday evening I was well enough to take them out for dinner (but not really well enough to eat anything significant). On Thursdays I normally take groups upstate on the train for a non-too taxing stroll along a little stretch of the Croton Aqueduct Trail, and Friday breakfast saw me polish off a stack of pancakes in the Diner, so I knew things were back on an even keel.
The other big thing I didn’t tell you was that this year, I turned fifty. I will no doubt start hearing the word ‘prostate’ more often.
If you remember, last time I left you on a cliff-hanger: Did I go to Bottom Pub with the crowd, or did I respect my 25 year old ban, and stay away? Sorry, you�ll have to wait until next time for the answer to that. I have something topical to discuss this week. That is to say, it was topical when I wrote it. Subsequently, the UNRV website fell into its long coma. It�s no longer topical, but you can read it anyway:-
I�m not sure just how much this news has filtered into other countries, or even if the problem extends to mainland Europe, but there was only one story in the media in the UK of late (at the time of writing), and that is the Horsemeat Scandal. Apparently, criminal gangs have been infiltrating the meat supply chain, and supplying horsemeat instead of beef. This has been happening on a scale that is quite dizzying. You have to admire the sheer logistical effort that allows them to supply that quantity of any meat, let alone whilst seemingly remaining �under the radar� for quite a long time. I can�t help thinking that if they were capable of using these management skills in legitimate business, they could really make some serious money.
The horsemeat tended to find its way into ready meals with a high minced beef content (or claim to have a high minced beef content); burgers, lasagne, that kind of thing, and seemingly no food giant or supermarket was immune. Huge amounts of food was removed from shelves. So much that it makes you wonder where all the beef that would normally be produced to go into these foods had actually gone.
Now that is a terrible thing, and I�ve told you about it, and that�s as far as I want to go with the scandal itself. It�s the reaction of Joe Public that bemused me. They were horrified. Not horrified that they could no longer have any confidence that what they thought they were eating wasn�t what they were actually eating (which is what they should be truly horrified about). No . . . what really horrified them deep down to their very core was the thought that they might have eaten horsemeat. Now I know that my ample frame is testament to the fact that I�m not a picky eater, so I may not be best qualified to sympathise with that reaction. I have eaten horse, in a very pleasant little bistro in Nice�s Vielle Ville. It was very tasty. Very lean, slightly sweeter than beef; on the whole, not a low quality meat. In fact, I remember as a poor student regularly going down to the supermarket and buying a stack of 30 �value� burgers for a pound. I would have been delighted had I known there was anything in there as high quality as horsemeat.
It�s not all black and white
Looking at the title of this section, you might guess (or hope?) that maybe I�m about to blog about the latest �chick-*or*� bestseller, �50 Shades of Grey�. I am not. Don�t get me wrong, I have many insightful, amusing, controversial, and no doubt down-right risqu� things to say about �50 Shades�. But that is not the subject of this particular blog. I am only prepared to blog about �50 Shades� on request; so if you�d like me to cover that particular Magnum Opus, just ask, and I will. No, the subject of this blog section (�blog-ette� if you will, or maybe �blogella�) is the good old Black and White Minstrels. For those too young or too foreign to know about the Black and White Minstrels, they were a sort of song and dance troupe, popular in the sixties and seventies, consisting of men who would �black up�, but then give themselves huge white mouths (like a clown�s mouth may be red) and round white eyes. There may have been more than one dance-troupe, I don�t know . . . it may have been a . . . what�s the word? . .. �genre� of entertainment (that�s not the word!) There may have been huge gangs of these men roaming around the piers of England, offering post-bingo entertainment to holidaymakers. Anyway, their numbers are irrelevant to this blog. The key point is that you don�t see them anymore. At some stage it became racially insensitive to �black-up� for reasons of entertainment (soldiers attempting a night raid on a Taliban stronghold would still be fine). �That�s all well and good,� you say. �That�s cultural progress.� �Black people were probably never threatened or insulted by this sort of thing, but where racial intolerance is concerned it pays to err on the safe side.� And I would tend to agree . . . anything that helps me stay out of fights scores highly in my book. But that raises a question: What about that most ancient and venerable of thespian institutions, the Pantomime Dame. Surely if blacking-up for entertainment is racist, then dragging up for entertainment must be Trans-genderist, mustn�t it? And yet we not only tolerate it, we love it . . . take our kids to see it and everything. I dressed up as one once � had the time of my life. This whole blog was leading up to that one question, and I don�t even care about the answer. If there�s any real truth, it�s that this motley isle has a baffling culture where nothing makes sense if you try to analyse it. I, for one, intend to sit back and enjoy the ride.
�Oh, no you don�t!�
Oh yes I do.
You�ll be needing a little historical background for today�s story, so here goes.
As the Allies started to gain the upper hand in World War II, they started to plan out their strategy for following a retreating army back to Berlin. Any wartime leader with any sense would dynamite bridges as they retreated over them, and the assumption was that the retreating Nazi army would do the same. So the stickiest problem for the Allies would be getting tanks in sufficient numbers across the Rhine. To this end, they fine-tuned a device that had been first designed to help with the D Day landings, namely the DD tank (or swimming tank). In order to perform this fine-tuning, and also to practice the actual crossing, they needed a river whose width, flow, river bed consistency, banks, etc. provided Rhine-like conditions, and they chose the lower River Trent. A base was set up just outside a small village, and the work began.
A Valentine DD (Swimming) Tank being deployed
From the age of 4 to the point where I married Mrs OfClayton and couldn�t afford to buy a house there, I lived in the village where that base had been, (though I hadn�t known anything about the base until recently - This was a shame, as my 8 year old self would have loved to have known that, especially as the remains of the base were a regular destination for my childhood wanderings). Even as a very young child, I had exploring feet. In those days, you were kicked out of the house after breakfast with no thought for your health, safety, destination, etc. Thoughts of you never crossed your parents� minds until hunger brought you back to the house some indeterminate time later. And me and my friends explored widely . . . though not as widely as we would have liked. The trouble with living on the banks of a significant river was that you only had 180 degrees of direction to explore, and setting out in an unplanned random direction, meant that half the time you ended up on the river bank with no further option than to explore up- or down-river. So, quite often, we�d end up at the floating tank base.
The only thing remaining of that base was a large ramp made from concrete, and surfaced with railway sleepers, (used by the swimming tanks to get into the river), along with a concrete track leading to it from an old sand quarry. We never thought to question what it was. It was just �there�, and always had been. A great place to play. That is to say, it was a great place to play. Nowadays, the parents of any children found playing on a river bank unsupervised would be charged with whatever you get charged with if society deems you�re a neglectful parent with little or no concern to your child�s safety. All parents were like that back then . . and yet here I am, still alive!
So the years passed, I grew up to be a man, and the time came (only recently) when I heard that my childhood haunt had this wonderful historic significance, and that a talk all about it was to be held by a historian in the village hall. It was a great talk. Very enlightening. I won�t bore you with the detail � you may not find it as interesting as I did. Afterwards, I noticed a small group of fellow residents of the sleepy little village of Aquis of the Romans, and went over to talk to them. �We�re all going to Bottom Pub,� they said. �Do you fancy coming along?� I did fancy coming along, but that left me with a small problem. Some explanations are necessary:
Firstly, you need to know that the village in question sits on a large, steep escarpment, mostly at the top, but with quite a few houses at the bottom. There are two pubs, one at the top of the hill, and one at the bottom. Inevitably, the pub at the bottom became known as �Bottom Pub�. Strangely, the pub at the top was never called �Top Pub�. I don�t know why. In my youth, from when I started going to pubs, I would drink in Bottom Pub. For about five years, it was my �local�. Then, unexpectedly, I was banned. I know what you�re thinking. �GhostOfClayton is a bit of a wrong �un. It�s not surprising he was banned from a pub, the kind of things he no doubt got up to.� Allow me to defend myself. Late one Friday night, much like any other Friday night, myself and two of my friends decided not to take advantage of Bottom Pub�s somewhat flexible opening hours, and left to walk up the hill. Unbeknownst to us, soon after we left, some local low-life decided to bend the radio aerial on a car in the car park. The car in question belonged to a �gentleman� we used to refer to as Crab. He was a moderately successful local businessman in his late forties, who habitually walked sideways when drunk. . . which was very often indeed. An unlikable character who went on to hold the record in the local police station of the individual caught driving with the highest blood alcohol level. In short, just the sort of person that would end up getting their aerial bent outside a pub.
Anyway, Crab left the pub soon afterwards and, finding his bent aerial, got a bit cross. With an anger fuelled by a long Friday night�s worth of beer, he got into his car and raced up the hill. The first three unfortunates he found was us and, assuming we were the culprits, he leapt out of the car and grabbed the nearest (me). Now, he wasn�t a big man, and I had a significant height and weight advantage over him, but he didn�t hesitate to tackle me because he had the advantage of wielding what can only be described as a home-made machete, which he proceeded to hold to my throat. Not only did he feel the need to make, or have made, (let�s not mince words here), a bloody big knife, but he also felt the need to carry it in his car, ready for just such an occasion! I told you he was unlikable, didn�t I?
I don�t remember how, but we talked him down without harm to any of us, but we did. I think we agreed to hand over money to replace his bent aerial. One way or the other, we lived to see another Friday night. However, on that Friday night, on walking into the pub, we were instantly barred by the landlord, who had heard about the affray, and also judged us to be guilty. Other than being justifiably piqued at this miscarriage of justice, it didn�t bother me too much. There was, after all, another pub in the village. We drank there for a few years until I met the future Mrs OfClayton, and spent less time in the pub. The incident was largely forgotten (apart from a strange incident about 10 years later when Crab made a comment in my presence in the top pub implying he was apologising for wronging me), until the other day.
Did I go to Bottom Pub or did I respect my ban and stay away?
I�ll leave that one on a cliff-hanger, and fill you in next time.
Christmas is now behind us, and the time has come to put away the decorations at OfClayton Towers. It's also time to consider those in society whose Christmas has been a distressing time for one reason or another (we shouldn't consider those who have been determined to have a miserable Christmas because they're nothing but a Grinchy old Scrooge (like me, for example). I'm not really talking about the desperate masses in sub-Saharan Africa that Bob Geldof became so passionate about in the eighties; I like to inject a little humour into my blogs (you'd be forgiven if you hadn't noticed), and to do that against a background of such unimaginable suffering would be tasteless in the extreme. I'm really talking about those who have become trapped in a cycle of debt, for whom Christmas is one more expense they can really do without, inevitably leading them to borrow more and more money they stand little hope of repaying. Drink is obviously one way of allowing an individual undergoing such hardship to, at least, temporarily, forget their troubles. As Homer Simpson famously once said, "alcohol: The cause of, and solution to, all life problems." In England, the cost of alcohol will soon be subject to (it may be already, I don't know) a minimum price per unit. Now, I don't drink much, so I'm not really qualified to comment on this, but I've been watching those that do with interest. It quickly became clear that the civil liberties people were largely silent on the matter, only forming an opinion when prompted, and not really opting to be the nay-sayers in any TV debate on the subject. That role was predominantly filled by the drinks industry and supermarkets, who (firstly) stand to experience erosion of profits due to lost alcohol sales, and (secondly) have a duty to defend against any attempt at government control over their business. Strangely enough, none of those industry representatives said, "we'd make slightly less money", or "we cannot tolerate external controls over our businesses". They either said, "nanny state" or "although it's counter-intuitive in the extreme, minimum price per alcohol unit will inevitably lead everyone to drink more, and England to descend into anarchy". I'm only one man, but their words did sound quite hollow to me.
Anyway, minimum alcohol pricing was not to be the subject of my blog today, and I apologise for meandering into that territory. The subject of my blog was debt, so let's get ourselves back on track. I don't know how predominantly this is happening in other countries, but I've noticed a disturbing trend in the UK recently. Once the 9 o'clock watershed is safely behind us, and all impressionable children have been removed from any room containing a TV by responsible parents, I've noticed that about every third advert is for either a casino/bingo/poker website, or for a company that will lend you money with obscene ease. I looked at the small print that flashes up quickly at the end of these loan company adverts. Anyone offering you a loan in the UK has to advertise their APR, or Annual Percentage Rate. Now, my bank will offer me a loan at 5.6% APR, and Wonga.com (the main culprit among these companies) charge an APR of 4214%. This is a staggering 753 times my bank's rate. You could probably get a better rate from your local neighbourhood loan shark. And correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the last big financial balls-up all about lending to people who can't pay?
Still, we're all adults, and we should be able to make up our own minds about debt, gambling and alcohol. Let's face it, that's worked out really well for us so far . . . hasn't it? And we shouldn't criticise those businesses who deliberately target, and prey upon, the most vulnerable in our society, because, well, that's just business isn't it? And if they weren't doing it, someone else would . . . and that makes it OK. So, nothing needs changing, and everyone's going to have a happy new year. I'd bet a bottle of vodka on it.
Well here we are once again, that annual midwinter dog and pony show they call Christmas. Bloody hell! And that was swearing. I make no apology, and I will swear later as well.
It�s already a matter of record that I lament Christmas getting ever-earlier (I blogged about it a few weeks ago . . . where were you?), so that�s the first reason for me to curse. Apart from that, I�m not religious, I probably have anti-capitalist tendencies, and don�t have kids, I rarely drink, I�m still on that perpetual diet I went on earlier this year, and I�m also unfortunate enough to spend most of any given winter quite far up the northern hemisphere. I long for the days when I used to spend the festive period in the Mediterranean sun. Now I spend it with rain, wind, snow, fog, ice, etc. Can you think of any more things people look forward to at Christmas that haven�t been dismissed by my previous statements. What�s that? Peace and good will to all men? I try and do that all year . . . what kind of miserable shit is only ever good to people for a fortnight every year? (I said I would swear again, didn�t I?)
Christmas lights? I have to admit that Christmas lights can be breathtakingly beautiful (they can also be breathtakingly tacky, but we won�t go there), but once I started to understand the concept of a carbon footprint, they kind of lost their appeal. And does anyone like shopping in December? Or the ever increasing war of escalation where people buy each other slightly more expensive presents every year. In the words of the great Sheldon Cooper, �You haven�t given me a present, you�ve given me an obligation.�
Turkey? Seriously, does anyone ever eat turkey outside of Christmas (and Thanksgiving if you live in the good old U S of A) ? I doubt it. As meats go, it�s pretty ordinary, isn�t it?
Spending time with your family? I will spend Christmas Day with one of the the belligerent and numerous OfClayton nice/nephew tribes. They�re nice kids, and fun to be with for about an hour. After that, the fun wears a bit thin, especially when the excitement of Christmas renders them uncontrollable. I dread the day when they become too tall to steer by placing a hand on top of their heads, and turning.
Anyway, I�ve got to go. My ex-business partner has put three appointments in my diary for later tonight. Don�t know what that�s all about . . . . So I�ll leave you with details of what�s in my iPhone Christmas playlist:
Thea Gilmore � That�ll be Christmas
The Darkness � Don�t Let the Bells End
Jona Lewie � Stop the Cavalry
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl � Fairy Tale of New York
Greg Lake - I believe in Father Christmas
The Pretenders - 2000 Miles
Hurts - All I want for Christmas is New Year�s Day (Don�t judge me on this one, it was a freebie from Apple)
Kylie � Santa Baby (also a freebie)
Care to share your Christmas favourites?
Bashing the Bishop
What do you think to the title? Bit rude? Bit adult? Hey, I can do blogs that�re �edgy�. In fact, there are those in the world that will almost certainly find the following down right offensive. There are those who say it�s high time I did a controversial blog. So here goes:
It may have passed the rest of the world by, but the Church of England had a vote recently on whether or not they should allow women to be ordained as bishops. In the end, they voted against, some people were delighted, some people were devastated, the world kept turning, and now the big news is tomorrow�s fish �n� chip paper. No one�s that bothered any more, now that a few days have passed. I know what you�re thinking. GhostOfClayton is some kind of Arch-Atheist, and that will have made his blood boil with sheer frustrated anger. Firstly, I don�t see myself as an atheist. Richard Dawkins is an atheist. He has that same degree of fervour and passionate belief that religious people have. He�s religious about atheism. I�m not. Normally religion has no impact whatsoever on my life, and I try not to have an opinion on it. It seems to offer some benefit to religious individuals (though it seems to have been pretty disastrous for mankind), so who am I to poke my nose into their affairs? So why am I blogging about it, if I care so little? Is it because they rejected women as bishops? No. My personal morality, as a good egalitarian, is that we�re all equal, and that we should all have the same opportunities in life regardless of our age, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation, skin colour, etc., etc. However, that�s just my personal morality. My personal morality also tells me that I shouldn�t try and project my personal morality on anyone else. If they want to take an institutionally non-inclusive position, that�s their business, much as it�s their business if they hold somewhat disconcerting views about gay people.
However, what the whole lady-bish episode did highlight to me was a significant hole in the inclusivity of our age old British democratic system. Did you know that 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved exclusively for Church of England bishops? Part of every UK resident�s life, whatever their religious belief, is still controlled by the Church of England. And to add insult to this anachronistic injury, the Church of England has just proved that it isn�t fit to exercise any kind of constitutional power, due to its institutional misogyny. Now�s the time to imagine my blood boiling with sheer frustrated anger. No other body has this automatic right to power (it�s just possible that this statement isn�t true, but if you want to read a blogger that checks their facts, good luck finding one � for the purposes of this blog, it�s an absolute truth).
Anyway, we don�t live in a perfect world, and one angry blogger with an optimistic total of three readers (who probably don�t agree with him anyway) isn�t going to change that one iota. My personal morality should possibly keep its gob shut and get on with its own business. It�s nice to have an occasional rant, though.
PS If you�re not sure why the title of this blog is rude/adult, Google it. You may want to check over your shoulder to see who�s about before you start typing, though.
I seem to be back at the point where these are twice fortnightly. I wonder how long that'll last!
Man v. Food
Have you seen �Man vs. Food�? It has been playing almost non-stop on Dave (the UK�s favourite TV channel amongst viewers who have already tried BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and Channel 4 and don�t really like what�s on them) at the moment. The format of the show is pretty basic. A man who (inexplicably) is not hugely overweight moves from US city to US city, taking on the various �challenge� dishes put forward by restaurants. These dishes invariably contain their weight somewhere in the name, involve deep frying somewhere in the recipe, and have been successfully eaten by only a handful of people. For example, your man may have an hour to consume Tastebud Irene�s 72oz Southern Fried Chili Chicken Donut Challenge (with a bucket of fries). Invariably, Tastebud Irene�s will be a restaurant founded in the 70s by the titular Irene following the death of her husband (or man she had corresponded with whilst he was awaiting execution on death row, and subsequently married via CCTV). The recipe will be something like: flash-fry a chicken carcass and stuff with chili. Wrap in bacon, and marinate in chili sauce. Mince the whole lot and cook into a donut. Serve on a bed of a T-Bone steaks, and lightly dust with Irene�s �Secret blend� of spices (chili powder).
Now the guy sits down in the crowded restaurant and, egged on by a large crowd of drunken locals, has to push half his own body weight in something akin to napalm down his gullet without it touching his lips, or indeed any part of him where there are intact nerve endings. This includes his hands, mind, because when his eyes inevitably start watering, he will need to rub them. If he has touched anything that has come out of Irene�s kitchen before rubbing them, he will go blind. And I dread to think what happens when he needs to take a pee!
Of course, if he succeeds, he gets a certificate, his photo on the Wall of Insane Diners, his meal for free, and triple heart bypass surgery. Watching him doing this week after week, I can�t help thinking there must be very few major blood vessels left in his body that haven�t been robbed out to bypass those leading to his heart.
I�ve made �Man vs Food� sound a little tacky . . . I know. Even for someone as highbrow and intellectual as I am, it still makes for very good 'guilty pleasure' telly, even if you only watch it to see the world�s first on-screen fatal myocardial infarction. It�s bound to happen.
Going for an English
I�m reminded of a �Man vs Food� incident in my favourite Indian restaurant some years back. On the next table to us were a couple of guys, one of whom was sober (probably driving), and had eaten Indian food before � let�s call him Ernie. The other was happily drunk, and had taken the opportunity to join his mate for a curry purely to keep the night going and drink more. He had never been to an Indian before � let�s call him Eric. Drunk enough to be feeling a little macho, Eric pestered Ernie to tell him �what�s the hottest thing they do?� Sensibly, Ernie replied, �it�s a Phal, but you won�t eat it. Have a Madras if you want something hot�. But Eric is having none of this, and insists he can handle the Phal. Ernie tries in vain to talk him out of it, saying he won�t be able to eat it, until Eric says �I bet you a fiver I can.� To quote AJ Rimmer:- I think it was Saint Francis of Assisi that once said, �never give a sucker an even break�, and so Ernie, sensing repayment of his petrol money, accepts the bet. The Phal arrives (looking a colour that could be described as �fluorescent�), and Eric makes an enthusiastic start. The first oversized forkful goes in, and a little grin plays imperceptibly at the corner of his lips. �This isn�t so bad�, he�s no doubt thinking. The second and third go in, and the imperceptible grin is becoming perceptible. By about the sixth, the grin is fading. Breathing in is beginning to be a process not only of getting oxygen into the lungs, but of cooling the mouth. The pace hasn�t slowed yet, though. The next stage is sweat appearing on the brow. Doubts are starting to creep in. This is going to be tough. �Go to your happy place,� he�s thinking. �Just keep shovelling it in.�
By the time he�s finished, I�d say about a third of the curry, Eric is struggling, and this is evident to Ernie. �You�re not going to eat that, are you?�
�I am, yes.�
�are you hell.�
And so on until, out of nowhere the ante is upped to a tenner.
Eric eats the next third with renewed vigour, forcing it in and stoically ignoring the pain. Ernie never once looks worried though and, sure enough, about two-thirds of the way through the curry, Eric bows to the inevitable, and hurries away to the gents to be sick.
Food one � Eric nil.
By the way, the topic of this section is the title of a very famous sketch from the BBC show �Goodness Gracious Me�. It can be seen
HP Sauce � turns a sandwich into a manwich
Now, I�m not one to do celebrity product endorsements (you have to be a celebrity to do that, for starters), and I�m certainly not in favour of the creeping product placement we seem to be experiencing nowadays. But I do like HP Sauce. Those who don�t know what HP Sauce is (this equates to no-one in the UK, and probably practically everyone anywhere else), are now asking �what is HP Sauce?� Basically, it�s the proprietary brand among a collection of products collectively called (very unimaginatively) brown sauce. I destroyed my last remaining tastebud back in 80s by eating too many hot curries, so I can�t tell the difference between them, but Mrs OfClayton says she prefers HP, so it is the HP bottle that adorns the breakfast table at OfClayton Towers. It has quite a strong and very savoury flavour that complements bacon butties (sandwiches), fried breakfasts, chips (fries, not crisps), etc. You pour a small amount straight from the bottle onto your food (or in a blob at the side), in the same way you would with ketchup. Culturally, it�s much more popular in the north of the country than the south � I don�t know why.
�Why are you telling us this now?� is the next question you�ll surely be asking. I suppose it�s all to do with my new Mo. It�s coming along nicely now � in fact, it�s reached the stage where a small part of each meal can be �saved for later� in it (usually involuntarily). HP sauce are currently running an ad where the narrator says that any effort to grow facial hair MUST be applauded. I�ll be honest, I don�t feel like applauding mine. Far from it. It�s irritating me no end and, come the 1st December, it will be shaved off with great glee, never to return. The fact remains, that HP feel it should be applauded, hence the timing of my endorsement. HP Sauce . . . I love it!
A footnote to is by way of a final question: Why don�t they have this in the US? Ever since I�ve been a more frequent visitor the good old US of A in recent years, I�ve had a good look around for it, without success. I can see why it wouldn�t suite European tastes, but I can�t help thinking it would suit the American palate right down to the ground. Someone�s missing a trick there, I reckon.
That first frost of Winter
As I write this, it�s November 19th; a date that is etched into my memory as the anniversary of my only significant car accident. It was back in 1986 or 87, I think. I was very young, very poor, and (if I�m honest) very stupid. I was also a typical Yorkshireman - tight-fistedly eking out the last traces of tread from my tires, getting that last few hundred miles, until you could all but see your reflection in them It was a long time ago, but I still remember it well. It was the first real frost of that winter, and it was a particularly sharp one. I remember the long straight road bordered by Christmas-tree decoration grass. I remember the GhostMobile Mk II�s inexplicable urge to slew sideways and mount the verge, and then the sudden drop of the bonnet as it dipped into a ditch. Here, the slow-motion stuff began. Silver grass, cloudless sky, silver grass, cloudless sky, silver grass. Ah, a cloud this time. Just a tiny one, no bigger than a man�s hand, and in the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle. I had all the time in the world to consider the cloud as the GhostMobile continued its graceful, end-over-end ballet.
The subsequent ambulance ride took place in a haphazard, dream-like blur. The sirens wailed like tormented demons, the blue lights flashed, reflecting back from every window, and the rush hour traffic parted in front of us like the waters of the Red Sea before Moses.
�I�ve only pulled a muscle in my neck,� I told the paramedic, tapping where the stiffness was worst.
The risk of whiplash clearly played on his mind, and so he secured a spongy brace beneath my chin. �That first frost of winter gets �em all,� he said, nodding wisely. He�d seen it all before.
The pace barely eased as we turned into the hospital grounds. My memory is of squealing tires complaining bitterly at the blatant disregard for their health, but in reality I�m pretty sure ambulances don�t do that. We jerked to a full stop and the rear doors were flung open by a waiting nurse. Whereupon a flurry of urgent activity found me removed from the ambulance, and wheeled hurriedly through into the building proper. Here, my trolley was taken by two porters who hurried with it down a short corridor and into a long white room with green curtains on either side.
�Quick! Put him in number three,� the nurse urged the porters (she may not have said �Quick!�), and I was wheeled through a pair of green curtains into a small anteroom. In contrast to the urgency of the ambulance journey, I was left here alone for almost twenty minutes.
Eventually, a weary looking young man with a white coat and clipboard pushed in through the curtains and took my personal details. I told him that I�d probably just pulled a muscle in my neck, and he left me alone for a further ten minutes, before I was visited by another weary looking young man with a clipboard and a stethoscope.
�Right then. Mr. . ,� he examined the clipboard and stifled a yawn. �Mr. OfClayton.� For a reason known only to himself, the man, who I took to be a doctor, prodded me in the leg with a pencil thoughtfully, and wrote something on the clipboard. �Right then. Your neck. You say you�ve pulled a muscle?�
I nodded . . . quite gingerly.
The doctor prodded the other leg, wrote something else, and then started sliding his fingers into my hair, parting it here and there. �Right then. Did you bang your head at all?�
I shrugged vaguely, no memory of whether I had or not. Had it all happened so quickly after all?
�Right then,� the doctor said shining a light into my eye. �We�ll not worry about that for the moment. Let�s get you down to X-ray.� A porter wheeled my trolley upstairs to Radiography where I was pushed into a random crush of other trolleys. More waiting. The featureless, off-white ceiling was all I was able to look at as I lay there. I tried in vain to ease my aching neck around, attempting to catch a glimpse of the motley collection of unfortunates patiently waiting their turns. One of them sighed. I didn�t know which. With nothing else to occupy itself, my mind�s eye projected the morning�s events onto the ceiling for the nth time.
The ceiling projection caught up with reality just as the porters wheeled me back to be X-rayed a second time, and then I was wheeled back into the random crush, and at last back through the endless corridors which returned me to what might have been the place I started out in. The hospital was busy now, buzzing and throbbing with the injured and the overworked. How fortunate I was that the first frost of winter had claimed me as its victim before the rush hour took hold in earnest. The early bird with a stiff neck catches the hospital trolley, while the later and more seriously injured birds, caught only chairs and benches. All of a sudden, I was a high priority case. �Get him treated and get him off that trolley�.
The doctor met me behind the green curtains, hurriedly thrusting an X-ray in front of my face, and withdrawing before I could get a curiosity-sating look at my own bones. �Right then, nothing serious here, you�ve probably just pulled a muscle in your neck. Here you are. Keep this on your person until tomorrow, and you can go now if you like.� He handed me a typed and much photocopied letter, and was gone.
I thrust the letter into my pocket, and then went in search of my jacket, which I hadn�t seen since I was admitted. I eventually found it screwed into a tight ball beneath a trolley in the adjoining cubicle, where the unfortunate victim of a nasty road accident groaned helplessly at me as I retrieved it, and then I searched the labyrinthine building for an exit.
As I walked down the hospital steps, I read the note. The bearer, it explained, had received a blow to the head and under no circumstances should that person be left alone during the next twenty-four hours. Hmmm. . .
Anyway, I lived to see another day, though my neck has been intermittently dodgy ever since. Coincidentally, there was ice on the windscreen of the GhostMobile this morning.
Picture caption: This stuff about dressing up at Halloween? It's for the kids, isn't it?
DocOfLove's recent blog entry got me thinking about Halloween, and just how much it has changed over the past dozen years or so (in the UK, at least). When I was a kid, my parents used to say, "it's Halloween tonight," make a silly ghost noise, and that was about all the notice anyone took. Then, a Charlie Brown cartoon was aired showing Charlie and the gang dressing up in diabolic costumes, and knocking on all the neighbourhood doors asking for sweets (actually, they asked for 'candy', but let's not split linguistic hairs). For the next, I don't know, dozen or so years, we were aware of what Trick or Treat meant, but it never happened here.
I suppose it was about 15 years ago that the first knock on the OfClayton front door was answered to a street urchin dressed in what could imaginatively be described as a Halloween costume, demanding appeasement with menaces . . . and then it all went mad. Huge gangs of kids would roam the area with sacks, ready to egg the unwary householder who dared to question the 'tradition', or offer nothing more substantial than a Nuttal's Mintoe. There were even organised gangs who would fill a transit van full of teenagers with cheap masks, and drop them off at the end of a street, so they could go from door to door demanding cash. Now, I'm not saying these operations were run by gypsies . . . . but they were!
Moving forward in time a very few years, and the party industry caught on. People love an excuse for fancy dress and partying, and if this was the alternative to staying in and not knowing how to react when a small vampire or zombie knocks at your door for the nth time, then you can see why people lapped it up. And if someone, somewhere is making a few extra quid selling costumes, you can bet your last mintoe that the supermarkets will want to put a stop to that by mass-marketing and undercutting any entrepreneurial little-guy right out of the ball park.
And once the Supermarkets want you to buy something, it's as good as law that you do it. And so, once 'back to school' is safely out of the way, the supermarket shelves turn orange (who decided orange was the colour of Halloween?) with chocolate shaped like pumpkins and witches hats, for the next six weeks.
Then comes the yet-to-be-fully-commercialised-but-you-can-bet-the-supermarkets-are-having-meetings-about-it Bonfire Night. Bonfire Night used to be the 5th November. As a kid, we used to trudge along to the local 'organised display', which consisted of a fire in the corner of a farmer's field, a few fireworks, mostly ground based, a jacket potato, a piece of parkin, and a big 'ooooo', when the final crescendo (a single rocket) was fired. This took place on the evening of the 5th of November, whatever the day of the week, and whatever the weather. Now, you'll find people burning Catholic effigies during not only the week of the 5th November, but also the Friday and Saturday nights of the weekends at either side.
Do I sound like I don't like this state of affairs? Let me tell you that I do like it. Let me explain why. For the last half century or so, Christmas has been creeping insidiously further and further upwards through the calendar like rising damp. Like a weed, little tentacles of Christmas have been worming their way through December, and November, and were encroaching their way into October in the form of Christmas stuff appearing in shops here and there, a day or so earlier than the previous year. Then the next year, a few more shops surrender to the scarlet tendrils, in order to stay competitive. I remember my Dad saying one year, "Christmas cards! It's not even bloody December yet." But then, the polytheists came to the rescue. A sort of pagan barrier was erected at the bottom of October against which the inching Yuletide incursion could only struggle in vain, buoyed up as it was by the anti-Catholic Bonfire Night. The supermarkets only have room on their shelves for one or the other, and remember, they dictate your life for you, whether or not you naively believe the contrary.
So, the Monotheist Christmas Holiday is locked in mortal combat with the Polytheist Halloween. Who will win? Tesco, that�s who.
�Eyup mi duck
As a header for this section of my blog, I�ve used a traditional greeting most often used in Nottinghamshire, and sometimes south Yorkshire. To explain. �Eyup is used more widely in the north of England as �Hello�. �Mi� is �my�, and �duck� is a term of endearment used towards children and ladies by men, towards children and men by ladies, and less so towards adults of the same sex.
Education out of the way. Here�s why: There�s been another first at OfClayton Towers. Tom and Barbara who�s small-holding backs on to the east range at OfClayton Towers, keep (along with many other edible animals), some ducks. When the ducklings first arrived, in conversation with Tom & Barbara it emerged that neither Mrs ofClayton, nor myself, had ever eaten a duck egg. �Righto,� said Tom, �you can have the first ones . . . though they take a while before they start laying.�
I have blogged in the past about Tom & Barbara�s neighbour The-Man-Who-Lives-At-The-End-Of-My-Garden (now, sadly, deceased), and about his encyclopaedic knowledge of country ways. His wise counsel concerning whether or not a duck is ready to lay, goes as follows: �If you can only get one finger up it, it isn�t ready to lay. If you can get two fingers up it, it is ready to lay.� Sage words, I�m sure you�ll agree. So, when one of the ducks was tested and found ready to lay, it heralded quite some excitement. Sure enough, yesterday morning, for the first time ever, I had a duck egg with toasted soldiers for my breakfast. I�m easily pleased.